How a Sexual Assault Prevention Seminar is Helping me Learn to Love Myself

As I left the Presidio Letterman YMCA, on a perfectly sunny and beautiful San Francisco Sunday, I could not contain my happiness. I grinned from ear to ear and practically skipped as I headed back to my car. My belly was full of butterflies and my heart felt lighter than it had in months. As I digested the days events and drove back to my home in the East Bay, it hit me: I was falling in love.

How it began: a (hopefully) brief backstory

I have never thought of myself as a fighting person. As a child I was more likely to be found at dance class or running around outside. As I grew older, I was not particularly drawn to combat sports such as karate or kung fu. It never seemed relevant, necessary or important. When I entered university, my sister encouraged me to take self defense courses and though I attended a taster session, I felt disappointed. The class seemed choreographed, unpractical and disjointed from my every day life. I let it go, and moved on. After graduation from university, when I entered the “real world” and found myself for the first time away from assignments, exams, studies, and face to face with the mundane stresses, joys and frustrations of every day life, I began to think about what it meant to be me. Overanalyzing became my M.O, and among other things I overanalyzed the meanings behind my bi-raciality, my sexuality (or lack there-of), my feeling of powerlessness in relationships , the challenges I as a woman (and all women though I can truly only speak about my personal experience) face in this modern society. I felt frustrated as a woman, as if being a woman meant inherently being a victim. Meant constantly relinquishing my “power” to men. Meant never truly taking ownership of my body. Then, enter André Salvage and Associates.

André Salvage and Associates: the empowerment squad

His was a self defense course like no other. Much of his knowledge of how predators think and operate comes from interviews with the perpetrators themselves. He employs actors to interact with the students, using tactics and strategies used by true predators. In this way he helps students tune into their often neglected intuition and coaches them in ways to avoid acting and looking like a victim. He lays out a toolbox of strategies for his students to pick up, use and shape to fit their individual situations, eventually allowing them to be claimed as their own. Finally, to round off the workshop, the team teaches students useful self defense maneuvers. Unlike the conventional self defense course however, André and the actors cover themselves in armor and attack students in a variety of scenarios, allowing them to practice escaping in as close to real conditions as can be simulated in a classroom. This is where my love affair blossomed.

The beginning of a love affair:

While practicing the defensive maneuvers, in rows and with no target, I remember thinking “I hope I can remember this if it actually happens”. Then, as if on cue, one of the actors emerged, bulky and bubble-like under layers of armor. He stood in front of me and encouraged me to practice the moves we had learned so far. It felt strange at first, to attack someone who was there to help us, but I learned to let go and as the practice escalated from choreographed hits, to mutual sparring, to full on attacks, my confidence began to rise. Standing alone in the middle of the mats, in front of the other students, actors and team members, I felt no hint of embarrassment, judgement or shame. As the actor/attacker approached me, I felt a rush of heat circulate my body and when he threw the towel in my face, impeding my ability to see, my instincts and muscle memory over-rode any fear. My body knew what it had to do and for once my mind was quiet. As I crab-walked away from him, my sight restored, my body felt strong, capable, powerful, dangerous. I felt feminine, wild and womanly. I had done that, I had taken him down and escaped.

A continuing love affair?

In the week since that seminar, I have often gone back to the time we all spent together. I find myself replaying conversations I had with students, going over the scenarios and most of all reliving the sparring matches. The strength I saw in every one of us encourages me and empowers me. The beauty of that day resides in redefining the view of womanhood. For me being a woman means finding the ability within myself to rekindle the power. It means fully trusting my body. It means re-claiming and owning my often overlooked abilities. It means falling truly in love with what it means to be myself.